Ice Fortress

Robert B. Williams

Ice Fortress

Prologue

January 4, 1945

Bastogne, Belgium

4th Armored Division HQ

The general’s cold stare mirrored the bleak, snow covered battlefield he surveyed through the window. The bullet shattered glass did little to stop the numbing chill of the air penetrating his makeshift headquarters, yet sweat dampened his sharply pressed shirt. As his hands balled into fists behind his back, his impatience became almost palpable.

Abandoned German Tiger tanks littered the muddy track. The general had lost count of the number of tanks his battalion had lost to these new and extremely lethal, vastly superior King Tigers. Weighing around 70 tons, the monstrous German machines dwarfed the undersized Sherman tanks under his command at more than double their weight and size. He knew that he wouldn’t have had a hope in hell of breaking through the German lines and securing Bastogne had the Reich had time to produce more of these behemoths. He also knew, despite what the press reported back home, that the hard won victory after months fighting the Battle of the Bulge wasn’t down to his fiery command style or the audacious thrust of his 4th Armored Division through the Wehrmacht’s panzer led offensive. Had the Germans not made a series of tactical errors, the outcome of the battle might have been quite different. As he scanned the artillery scarred road for a sign that his adjutant was returning, he feared that their good fortune might soon come to an abrupt end.

Turning sharply on his heel, General George S. Patton returned to his desk and began to polish his nickel plated, ivory handled Colt .45, his brow knotted in fierce concentration.

* * *

In the courtyard below a cruel snow-laden wind snapped angrily at the red and yellow flag of the 4th Armored Division, threatening to tear it from its halyard. The two battle weary soldiers at its base had been assigned sentry duty but they were more intent on shuffling from one foot to the other in a futile attempt to stay warm. With rain soaked woolen gloves tucked under their armpits to stave off frostbite, each breath of biting, freezing air burned their throat and lungs, chilling them to the very bone. Neither of them wanted to be there. Even digging latrines might have kept them from freezing to death.

Who were they guarding against, anyway?

Hadn’t the Third Reich been all but crushed now that Russian tanks were rumbling down the streets of Berlin, ready to fire an armor piercing shell right up Hitler’s ass? Of course, nobody dared ask out loud why it was that Eisenhower stood aside and let the Russians take Berlin. As enlisted men, they’d long since given up trying to figure out the logic of the military leadership. Truth be told, they no longer even cared.

They just wanted to go home.

“Remind me again who we’re supposed to be looking out for while we freeze our balls off,” the young private moaned.

“Better not let Old Blood and Guts hear you say that, unless you’re looking for a public slapping,” cautioned the older and wiser twenty year old. Few had forgotten the highly publicized Sicily incident after which their gun toting general had been ordered by the brass to apologize to the hospitalized soldiers he’d slapped and accused of malingering. Apology or not, nobody in their right mind wanted to end up on the general’s bad side. “You need to keep a lid on that—”

“Quiet,” the younger private snapped, raising a sodden gloved hand to silence his buddy.

“Don’t tell me to—”

Then they both heard it, the urgent screams of a klaxon horn piercing the still air from beyond the line of abandoned Tiger tanks. Only one vehicle made that sound. Only one man was arrogant enough to have his staff car announce its arrival like that. The general’s adjutant was returning in Patton’s heavily modified command car and he was in a hell of a hurry.

As the speeding command car crested the rise its unmistakable .50 caliber post mounted machine gun came into view, confirming their expectation. A rooster tail of mud and snow chased the heavily armored Dodge as it sped toward the gates of the compound.

“I don’t think he’s in any mood to stop for an ID check, do you?” the younger private suggested nervously.

“No shit, genius? Well… you gonna stand there gawking or open the gate?”

As he began to run toward the red and white striped gate, the private slipped on a patch of ice, sending his feet airborne before landing him flat on his back in the mud filed rut. As he floundered in the sludge trying to stand, his eyes widened in horror as the command car grew larger by the second, klaxon blaring and fishtailing as it took the final bend too fast for the slippery and treacherous conditions.

A firm hand gripped the young soldier’s wrist and yanked him out of harm’s way as the Dodge, making no effort to reduce its speed, burst through the gate. The wooden boom splintered on impact against the heavy armor plate protecting the radiator. Both soldiers were showered with debris and mud as the careering car raced past, narrowly missing the pair by no more than a couple of feet. Both soldiers saw the general’s aid white knuckling the steering wheel, the planes of his face set into hard lines, imprinted with dread.

“That can’t be good,” the private ventured, releasing the hand of his shocked and speechless comrade. He knew the general instilled fear among his subordinates, but the look on the drivers face was off the scale.

“No siree, not good at all,” the grime covered soldier agreed as he spat a gob of filth from his mouth.

* * *

The general was on his feet before the colonel burst through the door. Both men knew each other well enough to dispense with etiquette when alone. What the Colonel hadn’t expected was to see General Patton with his signature Colt .45 Peacemaker in his hand when he entered the general’s office.

“Relax Colonel, just keeping it clean.” The general holstered the weapon and fixed his stern eyes on the colonel. “Well?” he barked impatiently, his voice pitched a little higher than he would have liked.

The colonel’s face paled. He was lost for words.

He soon found them again when the general brought his fist crashing down on his desk, knocking over the bottle of gun oil that lay open next to his holstered sidearm.

“It’s gone general. There’s nothing left. The whole thing has just… well… gone.”

“And Kammler? Tell me that SS bastard is in the brig. Or better still, dead.” Again the general’s fist slammed the desk.

“Sir… Obergruppenführer Kammler has vanished, too. Blueprints. Journals. Files. Scientists. They’re all gone sir.”

The general’s face, too, became ashen and felt his legs suddenly become weary. With uncharacteristic restraint, he eased himself into his chair and opened his desk drawer. Sensing he was being dismissed, the colonel retreated in silence and closed the door behind him.

General ‘Blood and Guts’ Patton took his diary from the drawer, the rich patina the leather had developed served as a chilling reminder of how just long this most bitter conflict had been raging. Victory should be within their grasp. The Third Reich was on the verge of becoming a crumbling ruin.

Opening the diary, he wrote one brief entry as neatly as his unsteady hand would allow.

“We can still lose this war.”

Chapter 1

November 6, 2017, 00:20 UTC

Ronne Ice Shelf (Antarctica)

-77°51′ 19.79" S 61°17′ 34.20" W

USS Barracuda

Depth 660 feet

Sleek, black and dangerous, the USS Barracuda cut through the frigid darkness in total silence. Unlike its cold war ancestors, the Barracuda wasn’t cursed with the inherent cavitation noise that came from screws churning noisily through the water. Equipped with a cutting edge, nuclear powered Pump-Jet propulsion system, this stealthy deep sea beast could glide below the waves at 20 knots making less noise than a Los Angeles class sub tied to a dock.

But this particular attack sub wasn’t running silent, deep and deadly under pack ice at the very bottom of the world so that it could fire a surgically accurate cruise missile at an unsuspecting target. The Barracuda was tasked with a different mission altogether as it slipped silently through the dark waters below the arctic ice shelf, much to the annoyance of the captain, Frank Jameson, who was used to commanding a sub armed to the teeth with ADCAP Torpedoes and Tomahawk missiles.

Looking to the starboard side of the Command Center, he surveyed the motley crew of geeks who occupied what was once the most mission critical station on the boat — Combat Systems. Not only had the Barracuda been stripped of its vertical launch tubes and torpedo tubes to make way for a hoard of scientific equipment, even the weapon system consoles had been virtually torn out by the roots to make way for the geek squad and their all-important research computers. It wasn’t anticipated that they would engage an enemy on what was, for all intents and purposes, a pea ...

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